IT is said that when William the Conqueror reached Bilsdale, tucked away in a fold of the North York Moors, the fog was so dense that he got lost. As he stumbled blindly around, his language became more and more colourful, giving rise to a popular phrase – “swearing like Billy-o” – and giving the fold its name: it is Bill’s dale.

Whether this is true or not is difficult to say, but the fog has now lifted and we are pleased to report that the sun still shines in Bilsdale.

A fortnight ago we located our mystery harvest photograph, below, to an Ainsley family field near the Sun Inn at Spout House in the dale, and mentioned how five generations of Ainsleys had been landlords of the pub from 1823 until 2011.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

After a brief closure, the pub reopened under Audrey and Richard Wilson, and now serves on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evenings from 6pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 5pm.

“We are a country pub that serves some food,” says Audrey: homemade hot food during the evenings and sandwiches and cakes during the day.

Like so many rural pubs, the Sun is battling the coronavirus. “We are not on anybody’s doorstep, so if people are coming, they should give us a ring first to make sure we are open,” says Audrey.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Spout House – named after a nearby spring – was a farmer’s home from the 14th Century. In 1550, a cruck-framed house was built, and it is now regarded as the best preserved timber building in the north.

In 1714, this building became the Sun Inn, and in 1914, the inn moved across the farmyard to new, larger premises. The door on the 16th Century cruck house was locked, furniture untouched, and it became a museum in 1979.

Audrey reports that the museum hasn’t been open this year, due to the virus, although work has been carried out on its thatch, and that it is hoped to be accepting visitors from Easter to October next year.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Spout House is also famous for its cricket team, which began playing on a ledge carved out of the wildly sloping daleside behind the pub about 175 years ago. The one-in-seven ground has been played on by everyone from Prince Harry – in 2007, when he was named as Spike W in the scorebook which reveals he was bowled by a 12-year-old for 16 – to the West Indies.

The Spout House cricketers stopped playing in 2019, but Audrey hopes there will be enough interest to restart the side next summer.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Beside the pub is a memorial to Bobby Dowson who for many years was the whipper-in of the Bilsdale hunt and the wicket-keeper of the club.

When he died in 1902, a collection was taken to pay for a suitable memorial and a stone cross was commissioned.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

But when vicar saw that it contained a carving of the face and brush of the fox and the horn and whip of the hunt, he refused to allow it into and so it ended up outside the inn.

The Sun Inn is on 01439-798964 or 07570-911368.